Caribbean Cruise with Scientific Instruments
Research and a cruise ship. What’s the connection? Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht are plumbing the depths of this relationship in cooperation with TUI Cruises by installing an array of scientific measurement instruments on MeinSchiff 3. The measurement instruments function independently so that constant observation isn’t a requirement. Both partners are covering new ground together.
Read the interview with Project Leads Dr. Wilhelm Peterson, HZG Department Head of In Situ Measurement Systems, and Lucienne Damm, Environmental Manager at TUI Cruises.
"All on-board data is transmitted via satellite in real-time to a database at our institute and is then immediately made available over the Internet to researchers worldwide." - Wilhelm Petersen. Photo: TUI Cruises
Cooperation between a research institute and a cruise ship company sounds unusual. How did that come about?
Lucienne Damm: It began as an educational option on board for children and youth in our Kids Club. This led to scientists asking how we could also facilitate research on the ships. As environmental manager and due to my scientific background, the idea immediately appealed to me. Everything was a bit provisional at first. But the construction of Mein Schiff 3 gave us quite a bit of wiggling room to accommodate scientific instruments.
How does the cooperation work?
Wilhelm Petersen: This cooperation creates the opportunity for carrying out research on a cruise ship. We have installed what is known as a FerryBox on Mein Schiff 3. Using the FerryBox, we can analyse the water quality of seawater during the cruise. In addition, a mercury analyser as well as a sulphur dioxide and a carbon monoxide measurement instrument are installed on board for measuring pollutants. All on-board data is transmitted via satellite in realtime to a database at our institute and is then immediately made available over the Internet to researchers worldwide. We also offer regular lectures on the ship in which we present our research, the measurements and the marine ecosystem.
Lucienne Damm: What is also exciting from the point of view of our guests is that we operate the “Meer leben” (“Sea Life”) - a maritime museum on the sea. We present the research activities here interactively as well as making cruise guests aware of marine ecosystem protection. When the passenger is relaxed and well-informed after the journey, then we consider that a terrific success.
What are your objectives in this cooperation?
On-board research activities are represented in the exhibition: „Sea Life“ - a maritime museum at sea. Photo: TUI Cruises
Wilhelm Petersen: We already operate FerryBoxes on different ferries and cargo ships, which travel fixed routes. The cruise ship, on the other hand, heads to different destinations. The advantage here is that we cover a larger surface area and, at times, regions where standard commercial vessels don‘t travel. The cooperation is just as new for us as it is for TUI Cruises and we still need to see how the scientific benefits compare to the effort required. Even if the units are fully automated, we are still dependent on support on board the ship. An environmental officer, for example, needs to check the device and change the fi lters as needed. We could, however, very nicely observe the formation of the first algal blooms in the Mediterranean during spring of this year.
Lucienne Damm: We are gladly supporting the project even though it doesn’t pursue any primary commercial goal. I simply find it exciting to facilitate on-board research. And of course our guests can also benefi t because it is part of our marine life exhibition. Our central activities in environmental management are entirely different however. They are mainly concerned with constructing our ships in an environmentally friendlier manner and with lowering emissions. We also work toward avoiding the production of garbage, reducing wastewater and creating a more sustainable supply chain.
Wilhelm Petersen: One aim of the HZG is to make stronger public connections. We don’t simply sit behind closed doors with our research, but also make our data publicly accessible. On a cruise ship like the Mein Schiff 3, there are approximately two thousand people on board, with passengers changing weekly, so we can reach a lot of individuals.
"One aim of the HZG is to make stronger public connections. We don’t simply sit behind closed doors with our research, but also make our data publicly accessible. What motivates us On-board research activities are represented in the exhibition: „Sea Life“ - a maritime museum at sea." - Wilhem Petersen. Photo: TUI Cruises
What exactly do you want to study?
Wilhelm Petersen: Using the FerryBox, we can measure basic oceanographic parameters such as temperature, salinity and water turbidity, which are supplemented with further information. We determine, for example, algal blooms through the chlorophyll content as well as measure the oxygen content and the pH value.
What information can you obtain from this?
Wilhelm Petersen: Scientists have determined, for example, that ocean acidification in the polar regions is progressing faster than in other regions. This is partly related to the water temperature or the fact that biodegradation processes are slower there. It is these processes that we wish to study and understand. The same applies to carbon dioxide in the water, something that is of particular interest in connection with climate research. It is estimated that approximately thirty percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions is absorbed by the sea and is thus extracted from the atmosphere, slowing the greenhouse effect of the CO2. These are, however, rough estimates and we are missing precise numbers, such as on regional variations. It is also unclear whether the coastal regions are a source or sink for carbon dioxide. We haven’t yet measured carbon dioxide on Mein Schiff 3, but it‘s something I can certainly imagine undertaking soon. We also would like to determine how algal blooms arise, what triggers them, when they disappear and what effects they have. We are still missing comprehensive measurements covering a large area. We hope we can provide such measurements using the FerryBox systems.
The environmental officer on board ensures that the scientific equipment operates properly and replaces the filter if necessary. Photo: TUI Cruises
There are three additional instruments on board. What is their purpose?
Wilhelm Petersen: With the mercury analyser we want to determine the mercury pollution in the atmosphere during the journey. We obtain supplemental information using the carbon monoxide and sulphur monoxide measurement instruments, which provide information on anthropogenic sources, allowing us to analyse and classify the data. Is this plume, for example, from a coal-fired power plant or is it caused by a wildfire? This can only be determined if we measure the other two gases in addition to mercury.
The mercury collector‘s data is explained to Lucienne Damm. Photo: TUI Cruises
Does this also apply to exhaust plumes from ships?
Wilhelm Petersen: If it concerns mercury exposure, the contribution from ships is negligible. The exhaust from ships is of course measured, but the focus lies in global mercury measurement projects like GMOS (Global Mercury Observation System). The goal is to set up a worldwide measurement network and, in doing so, to determine the global mercury distribution. Mercury reaches the atmosphere mainly due to fossil combustion processes and, in the end, even fi nds it way to the polar bears at the North pole. Mercury primarily accumulates in the fatty tissues and enters the food chain, eventually reaching humans.
Why does it actually make sense to equip a cruise ship with scientific instruments instead of collecting specific data via research expeditions?
The FerryBox automatically measures, for example, turbidity and water temperature. Photo: TUI Cruises
Wilhelm Petersen: We benefit from a high data density and can conduct research very economically in comparison. Imagine a scenario of the following magnitude: in order to operate a small research ship, costs run approximately ten thousand Euros per day. If we use the Polarstern, Germany’s largest research vessel, the price quickly goes up to 100,000 Euros. This was also the basic philosophy behind the FerryBox: we have access to ships that are traveling anyway. Of course we cannot determine the route, something we’d of course like to do, but in exchange we get continuous measurement series along one route. In collecting this data, we can measure longterm changes and short-term processes such as algal blooms, which we might otherwise miss during a very temporally limited research expedition because they might have occurred right before or after the cruise.
Ms. Damm, from a distance, cooperation with the HZG could be construed by malicious critics as a kind of “greenwashing.”
Lucienne Damm: I would have to ask myself why here. What we’re doing is making a platform available for research. We neither advertise this to customers nor do we represent ourselves as a top eco-company.
"The new systems, which we utilise globally, have helped us reduce sulphur emissions by ninety-nine percent. We are thus virtually at the same level as marine diesel, in which sulphur makes up 0.1 percent of the fuel. That is considerably more than is required by law. With the aid of catalytic converters, we reduce the nitrogen oxide output in the exhaust by approximately seventy-fi ve percent and the amount of soot particles is decreased by sixty percent."- Lucienne Damm. Photo: Fotolia
What environmental measures does TUI Cruises currently adhere to? Lucienne Damm: Important measures
Lucienne Damm: Important measures concern the construction of our new vessels. Mein Schiff 3 and 4 as well as our planned ships Mein Schiff 5 and 6 possess a combined exhaust after-treatment system. We have also installed very innovative wastewater treatment units on board the new ships.
Where do you stand in comparison with other European cruise ship operators?
Lucienne Damm: I can be relatively confident at the moment in saying that in Europe as well as globally there are currently no other cruise ship companies that have installed such a comprehensive exhaust after-treatment system as TUI Cruises has. At least none that I’m aware of.
Willi Petersen will determine the mercury levels in the atmosphere. Photo: TUI Cruises
But you’re still using heavy oil.
Lucienne Damm: What is crucial for us as a globally active cruise ship company is that we can refuel anywhere in the world, so we are therefore dependent on what is regionally available. This winter we‘re in Asia, the following year in Central America, then we‘re headed to the Orient and the Caribbean. There‘s no demand in those areas for low-sulphur fuels so they aren’t available there at all. We therefore decided as a company that we would use exhaust aftertreatment as a bridging technology and utilise it worldwide. We and other cruise ship operators do consider liquefied natural gas as an environmentally friendly alternative in the future. We must first, however, solve many technical and infrastructural problems.
Lucienne Damm and the captain of the Mein Schiff 3 are happy about the research on board. Photo: TUI Cruises
Could you tell us a bit about your role as environmental manager at TUI Cruises?
Lucienne Damm: I joined TUI Cruises because I wanted to do more than just point fingers at others. My new position as environmental manager allows me to shape and take on challenges to improve matters. I was, for example, heavily involved with the basic planning of Mein Schiff 3 and 4 and could therefore define some central environmental standards. That was very exciting for me.
In the end, we are of course a commercial enterprise, but I can influence our future course in my role.
What further opportunities do you see for cooperation?
Lucienne Damm: We are open to everything. We could, for example, expand the instruments on Mein Schiff 3 in the future or equip other ships with suitable instruments to cover additional regions. I say that everything is possible.
Wilhelm Petersen: Expanding the spectrum of measurement parameters would be relatively simple. A dream would of course be to have a laboratory on board in the future. Lucienne Damm‘s suggestion for equipping additional cruise ships with scientific technology seems attractive to me too. Mein Schiff 4, for example, will mainly be traveling the northern regions and would therefore ideally expand our measurements on fixed routes in the North Sea.
Interview: Vanessa Barth
Published in in2science #2 (July 2015)